The Nightingale is an epic novel set in France during World War II. The story revolves around two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, and their actions during the invasion of France by the Nazis.
Vianne is the typical dedicated wife, mother, and teacher, and all she wants is to stay out of all of the mess that is the occupation of her town until her husband comes home from the war. However, she finds herself in the middle of it all when she has a Nazi soldier named Beck quartering in her house. In the course of the novel, she loses her best friend, Rachel, for the unfortunate fact of being Jewish, and ends up raising Rachel’s youngest son, which of course, is a major crime according to the Nazi overlords. Vianne ends up becoming a crusader for the Jewish children of her village, and manages to smuggle many of them to safety.
Intertwined with Vianne’s story is Isabelle’s, who is as different from Vianne as two sisters can get. Simply sitting around and just passively surviving isn’t going to cut it for Isabelle. She wants to do something to help her country. She finds herself as a courier for the Free French resistance. After saving a British airman from being discovered by the Nazis, she becomes the go to person for getting the trapped Allied personnel out of France. Codenamed the Nightingale, she quickly becomes a major target for the Nazis.
It isn’t until the end of the novel that it is revealed that the unnamed elderly woman who narrates the flow of the story is in fact, Vianne. She goes back to France from the United States to a commemorative reception honoring the “helpers” from the War.
This novel should come with a warning label on the cover that lets one know that once started, it will be impossible to put down. The opening sentence, “If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be, in war we find out who we are,” was an immediate hook into the sweeping storyline, and it really is one that transports the reader in World War II era France, and it is easy to get lost in the story.
The characters in this novel are amazingly well written. One of the many standouts is Beck, the Nazi captain who commandeered Vianne’s home at the beginning of the invasion. He’s not the typical Nazi. The author managed to take one of the most unlikable type of character in all of history and turn him into one of the many heroes in this book. Another plus for this book is the uncertainty of who the old lady is at the beginning of the book. The reviewer assumed it was Isabelle, only to be impressed and slightly shocked to discover it was really Vianne the whole time.
The reviewer can not recommend this story enough. It is a touching read that one will enjoy.
The Nightingale is available at the Howard County Public Library. Copies are limited, so if it is unavailable, ask at the front desk to be placed on the waiting list for it.
In addition to serving as an associate librarian with the Howard County Library, Nicole Tracy has years of experience in literary fields. She writes an exclusive weekly column for The Nashville News.